Although winter surfing might seem a little intimidating at first, it’s the best way to enjoy the waves while avoiding the crowds. The cold weather lends a magical aura to the desolate coastline, and even the shortest trip can feel like a real adventure. Forget about Hawaii and Florida — pick up an extra-warm wetsuit and discover the best cold water destinations the US has to offer.
(A word of warning: the winter swells might sometimes keep a beginner out of the water, but brisk walks on empty beaches have an allure of their own!)
Montauk, New York
Sometimes listed among the top US surfing destinations, Montauk is perfectly suited for a winter mission and is popular among Manhattan denizens. Nearby, Long Island offers more great beaches such as Southampton, Quogue and Long Beach. Frosty and serene, surfing these shores in winter is a mystical experience for all levels.
Although the waves in Montauk can be perfect, they aren't particularly consistent, so plan a visit only after consulting the swell report.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Alongside Cape Fear and Cape Lookout, Cape Hatteras is part of The Outer Banks, a string of peninsulas and barrier islands separating the Atlantic from mainland North Carolina. Here, the winter nor’easters bring the biggest waves suitable only for seasoned surfers. Calmer winter days can be more suitable to intermediate riders, but the water is bitterly cold throughout the season.
Still, Cape Hatteras in winter has plenty to offer to any outdoor lover, including flaming sunrises and sunsets, an iconic lighthouse often shrouded in mist, and an odd warm day when even a beginner can catch a beach break.
Higgins Beach, Maine
Higgins is a small but beautiful sandy beach, only a stone’s throw from Portland. Surfing here is popular, with any good day seeing a fair number of people paddling out. Still, winter “crowds” rarely consist of more than twenty surfers spread along the 0.6-mile beach. Old Orchard Beach and Fortune Rock are the less popular, nearby spots.
The best times for clean waves at Higgins Beach are late autumn and early spring. In the colder months, a good swell is usually harder to come by, but with warm booties and gloves, surfing in Maine can be fun even in the dead of winter.
Every surfer knows the name Mavericks and while it is one of the most famous destinations in the world, it is for seasoned pros only. With waves as tall as apartment blocks and powerful enough to snap a board like a twig, don’t risk entering the water without enough experience. However, for those who left their apprenticeship long behind them, Mavericks in winter is the dream. Big wave surfers flock to the beach at Princeton-by-the-Sea from all over the world as well as those with less experience who want to watch the pros at work.
Whether you are surfing or spectating, the best month to visit is January, when the rideable swell is the most consistent.